Monday, September 11, 2006

Progressive Logic, A Book Review Part 1


I was approached by Dr William J. Kelleher about a gratis copy his new book Progressive Logic: Framing A Unified Theory of Values For Progressives. I figured if he wanted me to read it, it is likely that he wants me to tell you about it. I am going to do this a little different than most 'reviews' in that I want to tell you about the book and my thoughts as I read it.

The introduction gives us a fair idea about the intentions of the book. Essentially, the right have been very successful in recent years not because of the validity of their arguments but the manner in which they are framed. Instead of arguing the merits of their arguments, they have simply put them into attractive frames and progressive arguments into negative frames. The goal of the book is summed as

It is about putting forth an explanation as to why progressive values are intellectually far superior to their political rivals on the right. Our aim here is to provide a "frame" for progressive values that will command widespread respect
.

OK. This intrigues me. I agree with the idea that the right has done well in the 'framing' area. In a topical sense, we have allowed them to frame us as weak. When we do fight back, we allow them frame us as wild-eyed nut cases. We saw it with Howard Dean, where we started with a strong, outspoken candidate and ended up with soft spoken over-nuanced John Kerry. Now we see it in the way that Jon Tester's supporters are being painted because of their energy.

Chapter 1: What is Progressive Logic

Here we have Kelleher making the claim that the apparent lack of unity and consistency in American progressives stems from a failure to focus on the values that they do share. Without a common cause of paramount proportions, progressives have focused on diverging values. The power of a unified progressive movement has been displayed many times throughout history by the likes of abolitionists, civil rights movement and so on. However, for the most part that have operated under fragmented notions of just government. Kelleher feels progressive movements can only be successful by drawing together a unified framework under which to operate.

OK, I can buy this so far. Certainly, this notion of a 'unified platform' has been successful for the right so far. We can note from their impending disintegration that it is based on the divergence from their central framework. For instance, a long time staple of the right is fiscal responsibility. It is easy to see that the current lot in Washington have all but abandoned that idea and it is making a lot of republicans very nervous. Additionally, the recent addition of evangelical fundamentalist principals has concerned those that have traditionally favored separation of church and state. For the most part they have managed to maintain some levels of 'unity' despite the diverging values. Why is that? Perhaps by focussing on the unifying values? OK, back to the book.

Kelleher sets out to build this framework by stating his view of the basic progressive premise.

All persons always deserve positive regard.


He makes the claims that four value axioms ( half positive and half negative ) can be deduced from this single premise. Wait here while I read ahead... Ooh, these are good.

1. Idealogical Fallacy: In short, the false concept that ideas are more important than people. He uses the concept of 'race' and gender bias to illustrate this and sums it up as

...entails subordinating the regard given a real person in favor of some idea, conception, system, or other kind of cognitive concept. If all persons always deserve positive regard, then logically no mere concept can be used as an excuse to diminish another persons positive value.
.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Gay marriage ban anyone? Is this not an 'ideal' being placed above real people? The ideal here being the institution concept of 'marriage', the people being folks that we see and talk to, blog with and work with everyday.

2. Instrumental Fallacy. This one is simple: using a person as an solely as an instrument to achieve some goal or achieve some end. He makes the claim (and rightly so) that to 'use' a person in the manner that we use a tool or a thing reduces that person in value as though they were no better than a 'thing'.

OK, this seems right too, we know this in principal. A business that does not value their employees as 'people' but only as the tools of business will have demoralized employees. The same can be applied to any sort of policy.

3. Ideological Enhancement. Here Kelleher begins talking in the positives and they are essentially extensions to the basic premise. By giving positive regard to all people then we increase their value. Kelleher gives the example that Martin Luther King Jr believed that even the racist he protested against deserved respect as humans.

I will have to think about this in depth. While it is a value that I struggle applying, I agree with it 100%. I tend to devalue people based on their positions at times, I think that we all do to an extent.

4. Instrumental Enhancement. Another positive axiom for progressive values. Think public education. Think inner city renewal. Think rural electrification. Think civil rights and the abolishing of slavery. These are central to progressive politics.

The remainder of the chapter is a discussion on exactly what 'values' are. Here Kelleher proposes that

It entails intellectual judgments about how various ideas, things, and actions relate to the basic premises. Progressives and conservatives value differently becuase they start from different premises
.

Now, he goes on to say that the basic principal of conservatives is that "some people deserve our positive regard sometimes, and some people deserve our negative regard sometimes, and we are free to say who and when". This seems a little harsh doesn't it? Not something that they would want to admit to? If not, then I think that it is because we have actually done a pretty good job of framing our basic premise as the most humane approach.

However, I think that there is plenty of evidence pointing to the truth of this as the 'conservative view'. I think that you can see it in the regard that is often display towards Arabic Muslims, as though all were terrorist. Consider the approach taken to 'racial profiling' of Arabic peoples in airport. I can point to plenty of blog posts and actual articles where all Arabic persons are devalued to the level of 'terrorist'.

OK, this wraps up part 1. As there are four chapters, I imagine there will be a total of four parts. So far, I am intrigued. Kelleher is still setting up his argument, so I am interested to see where he takes it.

Buy the Book. It is worth it.

7 comments:

Craig said...

Is this a diatribe against conservatism, or a caricature of conservatism?

Just a hunch, but I'm thinking the latter.

Shane C. Mason said...

Actually Craig, only a small part of the book (and my post) addresses conservatism at all. For the most part it is a book about progressive logic and building a unified framework based off of the common threads (or shared values) of progressives.

It's funny that you should have that one statement when the word conservative is mentioned 4 times in the post while the word 'progressive' is mentioned 15 times. Persecution complex? :)

Craig said...

I don't know, Shane.

The way I read it, you've tied each of your four points back to either "conservatism" or "the right."

"Essentially, the right have been very successful in recent years not because of the validity of their arguments but the manner in which they are framed"

"It is about putting forth an explanation as to why progressive values are intellectually far superior to their political rivals on the right."

"I agree with the idea that the right has done well in the 'framing' area. In a topical sense, we have allowed them to frame us as weak."

"Certainly, this notion of a 'unified platform' has been successful for the right so far."

Etc., etc., etc.

Over to you.

Shane C. Mason said...

Well, a portion of the success the right has had is because we have let them have it. We have 'let' them define us. We have 'let' them frame us as 'the left doesn't have a plan' and so on in many senses because it is true. Too much focus on the differences as opposed to pushing focus onto the uniting features.

Of course, when discussing an issue counter examples are always helpful. That is to say that it is difficult to discuss or define light without using the word or concept 'dark'. Or black without the word or concept 'white'

Do you agree with the basic premise that is put forth for the right?

Craig said...

It is about putting forth an explanation as to why progressive values are intellectually far superior to their political rivals on the right.

Is this the main premise?

If so, then I obviously can't agree. In fact, if this is the case, I would say that the title, "Progressive Logic" is an oxymoron.

Let's not pretend that any philosophy or ideology is not divisive. The goal of any ideology is to draw a line between "us" and "them" and the more of "us" there are, the better.

As far as framing, look at who shapes the language. It isn't the right. Take any nonsense PC terms that's come out in the past 20 years, and it's come from the left. Hell, the very term "progressive" was coined to deflect attention from the fact that most "progressives" were, in fact socialists.

...entails subordinating the regard given a real person in favor of some idea, conception, system, or other kind of cognitive concept. If all persons always deserve positive regard, then logically no mere concept can be used as an excuse to diminish another persons positive value.

Here's the thing. All people do deserve positive regard until they choose to do something harmful to the rest of us. Do the racists in Kalispell deserve positive regard simply because they are drawing breath? If we just treat them with kindness and respect as human beings, will that change their hearts? Not bloody likely.

Further:

[The basic prinicple of conservativism is that] some people deserve our positive regard sometimes, and some people deserve our negative regard sometimes, and we are free to say who and when

Yes and no. What is society, but an agreed-upon framework of what is right and wrong? If you choose to do wrong, then you lose our positive regard, yes? Again, I go back to the Kluckers in Kalispell. Who decided that they should not be on the recieving end of our positive regard? Well, you and I did. When did we do that? Who gave us the authority to do that?

Can you extol the virtue of black without exposing the perceived vice of white?

I think you can.

Shane C. Mason said...

All people do deserve positive regard until they choose to do something harmful to the rest of us. Do the racists in Kalispell deserve positive regard simply because they are drawing breath?

Yes, they do. They are not somehow less than human, they are flawed. No, we don't have to treat them like our best friend, we don't even have to be nice or helpful to all people. We can even strive to defeat them, but that does not mean that we should 'hate' them.

I don't think that the idea of 'positive regard' should be taken too literally. You and I disagree on topics, but I have a great deal of respect for you. Eric Coobs and I dissgree and I don't have very much respect for him. I can still have a 'positive regard' for both of you. No matter how I feel about Eric, I believe that he has a complete right to speak his mind and exercise his rights in the same manner as everyone else. I can not devalue him to a level less than human.

I can even take the exteme case of a terrorist, though it is a bit more difficult. The terrorist must be stopped before he hurts anyone, and that might even mean death. Once caught, he should live a life of severe punishment. However, that punishment must not devalue him to a level less than human, like happened at a certain prison in Iraq. The punishment must be humane.

Perhaps I should have cleared that up in the post. Positive regard does not mean that you like someone or value them for who they are. It means that you accept the fact that they are human and as such have an intrinsic value.

Craig said...

I'm not even sure where to begin with this.

Is the opposite of "positive regard" hate?

I don't think so.

You can still hold someone in positive regard, and still sanction them, as you well know as a parent.

Yes, people do have an intrinsic value, but when they choose to squander it, then the rest of us have no choice but to sanction them. Without sanctions, bad behavior is inherently acceptable.

Sanction and hate are not the same thing, and to argue that they are is ingenuous at best.